What is Freemasonry?

Last week, Freemasons — members of a secretive organization — in Delhi shed the veil of secrecy and invited around 300 non-members to witness an ‘investiture ceremony’. This is not the first time that the Freemasonry movement in India has decided to come out in open. Non-members got a chance to witness the same ceremony in Chennai on November 21, 2009. There is a lot of ambiguity among people regarding this secret society and its Indian angle. Canary Trap brings this write-up to provide more information about this secretive organization.


“The great secret of Freemasonry is that there is no secret at all,” Benjamin Franklin. Yet secrecy seems intrinsic to this ancient brotherhood.

Officially the society came into being in 1717, with the creation of the United Grand Lodge of England, and since then it has spread its influence far and wide.

However, researchers point out that references to Masons date at least as far back as 1390 (The Regius Manuscript). They talk of an ancient fraternity that descended from medieval guilds of stonemasons and cathedral builders.

What started as a grouping of fellow tradesmen linked to the craft of building and architecture coming together to share, protect and enhance their skills through community-based societies slowly evolved into a philosophical association of businessmen and artisans who embraced the ideas of Enlightenment, freedom of thought and spirituality.

Right from the beginning till today Masonic lodges have two basic criteria for memberships. The first being that you must be a man and the second is your faith in a Supreme Being – the Great Architect of the Universe or the Grand Geometer.

As much as that might annoy atheists today, the fact remains that back in the 1700s or even prior to that, such an ideal would have been seen as quite revolutionary and therefore dangerous to the prevailing power structure.

It isn’t surprising, thus, that Pope Clement XII (1738) attacked the fraternity as heretics and forbade Catholics from becoming members, threatening punishments for those who disobeyed. That was followed by Pope Benedict the XIV warning the faithful of the dangers of Masonry, the key one among them being the group’s growing international linkages as it took a hold in the US and even India.

Considering their international nature along with such a strong opposition from the church back then, it’s perhaps not a shock that the freemasons have been accused of subversion, satanic practices and plotting to create an alternative world order – the kinds of theories that continue to do the rounds.

That and the uncanny truth that some of the richest and most powerful people in history have been freemasons. For instance, at least nine of the 59 signers of the American Declaration of Independence and 13 of the 19 signers of the US Constitution were freemasons – cementing the popular belief that the American struggle for freedom was aided, funded and carried out with Masonic assistance.

Besides this, several American Presidents ranging from George Washington to Franklin Roosevelt have known to be members of the fraternity. Researchers argue that while the membership of a number of former presidents is known, even the more recent ones, including Barack Obama, belong to the fraternity, while Bill Clinton (though not a freemason) used to be a member of the Youth Order of DeMolay – a Masonic sponsored youth group.

In the Indian context too, several key members of the political, bureaucratic and judicial community along with former Maharajas have been freemasons. The list goes from Motilal Nehru, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Swami Vivekananda to even Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and JRD Tata. (Click here for the full list)

The first steps to bring the fraternity to Indian shores were taken in December 1728, with lodges being set up in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. The Grand Lodge of India was eventually set up in 1959. And since then, the membership has only grown – now estimated at some 20,000 members.

The purpose of the society is explained to be a space for people to come together as brothers who are concerned with moral, family and spiritual values. They aren’t a religious group, but they aim to make better men for a better world and have extensive and well-document charitable engagements. The oath taken by new Masons says it all: “You agree to be a good man and true; you agree to conform to the laws of the country in which you reside; you promise not to be concerned with plots and conspiracies of the government.”

Yet there remains a shadow that looms large over everything that they do.

Critics and conspiracy buffs argue that there is much that lurks under the surface. While there exists a lot of information about their presence and philanthropy, there is little known about the daily practices and the rituals followed by the group, and neither are the members ever willing to discuss these openly.

The three degrees of the freemasons are listed as Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason, which come under the Blue Lodge. Thereafter, it is said that the Master Mason may receive additional teachings and rise up 30 more degrees, each symbolizing his growth and evolution. President Gerald Ford and Harry Truman had reached the 33rd degree. It is the men at the higher levels who are argued to be the ones who are aware of dark secrets and the real purpose of the group, as they plot to overthrow governments, manipulate economics and rule the world with an invisible hand.

If you sit down to research, as I did, the stories and accusations range from fascinating, titillating to the unbelievably absurd – from worshiping the devil to blood-drinking initiations and mystical powers, from clandestine plots to undermine democracy to hidden communication through public hand gestures and linking people through ancient bloodlines. Did you know that Obama, George Bush and Brad Pitt are distant cousins? Likewise, some researchers argue that just about every former US president has had a royal European bloodline link, implying the dynastic few who continue to rule the many.

Interesting trivia, but you’ve got to be kidding me, I said to myself despite knowing fully well that dynasties old or new continue to dominate positions of power in India or anywhere else. That was until I came through a quote that made me scratch my chin with intrigue.

“The individual is handicapped by coming face to face with a conspiracy so monstrous he believes that it cannot exist,” Former FBI Director J Edgar Hoover.

That, argue many cynics, is the essential nature of how ancient societies like the Freemasons have adapted to perpetuate their agenda in our times: secrets are often best protected when they lie open in full public glare.

(Manoj Kewalramani is a guest writer with Canary Trap. He has worked with top media houses like NDTV before becoming an Independent Blogger and Writer.)

1 Comment on "What is Freemasonry?"

  1. Interesting article. I had stumble upon free masons quite a few time, but never had tried to find what exactly it was. The posts has enlightened me on many aspects. Thanks!

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